Looking Comes First
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis presents a fictional account of a man in Hell boarding a bus toward Heaven. Anyone who wishes to cross over from Hell to Heaven can do so, but it’s not easy, for those in Hell have grown used to their state. Throughout the book, the man encounters a variety of people in conversation with one another and with heavenly spirits come to persuade them to come along to Heaven. In one such conversation, a heavenly spirit talks with a ghostly artist in Hell as they near the heavenly realm.
‘I should like to paint this.’ said the Ghost.
‘I wouldn’t bother about that just at present if I were you.’ replied the Spirit.
‘Look here, isn’t one going to be allowed to go on painting?’
‘Looking comes first.’
‘But I’ve had my look. I’ve seen just what I want to do. God!–I wish I’d thought of bringing my things with me!’
The Spirit shook his head scattering light from his hair as he did so. ‘That sort of thing’s no good here,’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’ said the Ghost.
‘When you painted on earth–at least in your earlier days–it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too. But here you are having the thing itself. It is from here that the messages came. There is no good telling us about this country, for we see it already. In fact, we see it better than you do.’
‘Then there’s never going to be any point in painting here?’
‘I don’t say that. When you’ve grown into a Person (it’s all right, we all had to do it) there’ll be some things which you’ll see better than anyone else. One of the things you’ll want to do will be to tell us about them. But not yet. At present your business is to see. Come and see. He is endless. Come and feed.’
There was a little pause. ‘That will be delightful,’ said the Ghost presently in a rather dull voice.
‘Come then’ said the Spirit offering it his arm.
‘How soon do you think I could begin painting?’ it asked.
The Spirit broke into laughter. ‘Don’t you see you’ll never paint at all if that’s what you’re thinking about?’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’ asked the Ghost.
‘Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.’
‘But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country.’
‘No. You’re forgetting,’ said the Spirit. ‘That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.’
Looking comes first. The Author of Hebrews calls us repeatedly to consider Jesus, to fix our eyes upon him. Whatever else we do as Christian leaders must stem from seeing Jesus. And seeing Jesus is not a quick glance. He’s too glorious for that. We must linger with him.
Spiritual leaders must do many things. They must shepherd and serve and teach, but they must not turn our attention away from Jesus. How can they paint the picture of heaven if they’ve only seen the outskirts? They must be present with the King to tell about his kingdom.
If this sounds too hard, don’t worry. Jesus will bring you to himself. You do not go to him. He comes to you. That’s what makes the gospel so freeing. You are not asked to work your way to heaven. By the Holy Spirit, God brings you to heaven. All you must do is not miss the beauty for the desire to paint the picture.